Nate Ryan

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

For Kyle Busch, an emotionally wrenching ending with Gibbs: ‘The hardest of it all’

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AVONDALE, Arizona – On the toughest day of his most difficult NASCAR season, Kyle Busch endured several emotionally wrenching farewells Sunday to Joe Gibbs Racing, including one that was cruelly unexpected.

Among the most difficult of goodbyes came as Busch approached the yellow No. 18 Toyota he would drive for the final time in the familiar M&Ms/Mars livery that became his signature over 15 seasons.

“I couldn’t even look at my car to begin with because it was the last time I’m going to see it,” Busch said while getting choked up after a seventh-place finish at Phoenix Raceway. “It’s … it’s hard, man. It’s not easy. Just wish it wasn’t what it was or what it is, but I’m going to miss a lot of our fun folks that we got to spend a lot of time with over the years. Just look forward to new adventures.”

The two-time Cup Series champion and the rest of Joe Gibbs Racing were ready to put Phoenix in the rear-view mirror after racing through overwhelming grief Sunday.

Less than 45 minutes before the race, the team announced that Coy Gibbs, JGR’s vice chairman and chief operating officer, died in his sleep. The son of team patriarch Joe Gibbs had celebrated an Xfinity championship by his son, Ty, several hours earlier.

Busch learned of the news Sunday morning just after completing his hospitality rounds. Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota officials then held a meeting with its four crew chiefs and drivers, but Busch said skipping the race never was considered.

“That’s not in our DNA,” he said. “I think everybody always kind of says that. If it was a family member of mine, I would probably have still ran today because this is all we know. This is what we’ve grown up doing for life. And so I don’t think that was ever a question that we don’t run today.”

Busch was the top-performing Gibbs driver and fittingly finished just ahead of Denny Hamlin, who gave Busch a prerace hug on the starting grid.

“Denny and I, as much as we may not see eye to eye or see the same path sometimes, we do respect one another a whole ton, and we will forever,” said Busch, who joined the team in 2008 two years after Hamlin moved up to Cup with Gibbs’ No. 11. “I hope that we have the opportunity to race each other as we have as teammates at least.

“He’s really close to the family. He’s been there since the very beginning. So we were both emotional anyway at the start of it. We both had our reasons why.”

Despite all the emotions, Busch rebounded from one of the worst races of his Gibbs career (finishing six laps down in 29th because he was so slow Oct. 30 at Martinsville Speedway).

“Probably just the adrenaline, the focus and all of that stuff,” he said about how managed Sunday. “Once you put a helmet on, you’ve got enough stuff going on that you’re worried about and everything else. No different than anything of all the trials I’ve been through this year. Today was obviously the worst of it all. And the hardest of it all.

“Just gave it everything I had, and that’s all we had. Wish it could have been better. Wish it could have been a top five. Top three. Run a little bit better. But I’ll take the satisfaction in being the top Gibbs car today.”

He also will take away fond memories of Coy, whom Busch said “was a lot like me.” Coy Gibbs had moved into a management role at JGR in recent years since his older brother, J.D., had exited as team president after being struck by a degenerative neurological condition that preceded his death in 2019.

“Coy didn’t take any bullshit and told everybody the way it was and straight to their face,” Busch said. “I loved Coy for that and for his tenacity. He took on a huge role in filling the shoes of his brother and maybe a little more on the competition side than the business side in that respect, but he’s done nothing but try to push us all to go forward and win races and be competitive and to be strong and all that.

“Honestly that’s what I’ll remember most about him. But the majority of my thoughts and prayers are with Joe and the family. Everybody else. Heather, Melissa, all of them.”

Though he will leave with strong bonds (Busch gave high fives and hugs to all his team members before speaking to reporters), his last season with Gibbs was largely forgettable.

He finished 14th in the points standings (his worst since his 2005 rookie season with Hendrick Motorsports) with a career-low eight top fives.

Busch said the slide began with the 2020 season, which ended in a split from Adam Stevens (the crew chief for his championships in 2015 and ’19).

“Ever since the breakup with Adam, it’s just not been the same,” Busch said. “We were Jimmie (Johnson) and Chad (Knaus). We had that capability. Try to form that again with a new group, and it was never the same, but we were successful. We won some races. We had legitimate shots to win a hell of a lot more races this year than we got. But with this new car, man, you’ve got to be on top of it all the time.”

For the second season of the Next Gen, Busch will start anew in the No. 8 Chevrolet at Richard Childress Racing.

Though his official start date won’t be until January 2023 (because of contractual obligations to JGR and Toyota that will tie him up through December and the NASCAR awards ceremony), Busch said he “already has started a little bit” at RCR (including some visits to the team shop).

He has been talking and texting with future teammate Austin Dillon about simulator work and hunting licenses. Busch even dropped a subversive RCR sponsor reference when asked about how he’d be reflecting during the plane ride back to North Carolina (“Maybe I’ll take some 3Chi since the season’s over and not think on the way home.”).

But the pall hanging over Sunday’s race also was a reminder of how tough the season had been.

“It’s got to turn around and get easier at some point,” said Busch, whose wife, Samantha, encapsulated the tumultuous weekend in a social media post late Sunday night. “I don’t know if that’s tomorrow or when that is. We’ve still got the banquet to get through and some other things with the family and all that.

“But this makes it all that much more tougher.”

NASCAR community mourns Coy Gibbs

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AVONDALE, Arizona — The NASCAR world was in mourning Sunday as the death of Coy Gibbs cast a pall over the Cup Series’ championship finale at Phoenix Raceway.

Gibbs, the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing, died in his sleep at 49 just hours after his son, Ty, won the 2022 Xfinity Series championship with a victory in the season finale.

NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a statement that “we are heartbroken by the loss of Coy Gibbs.”

“Racing is a family and the relationships within the entire garage go so much deeper than on-track competition,” Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson said in a release. “Today, we lost a dear part of our family. The loss of Coy Gibbs is devastating to everyone at Toyota and TRD. Our deepest condolences and prayers are with Joe, Pat, Heather, Ty, Case, Jett and Elle and the entire Gibbs family and Joe Gibbs Racing family.”

Longtime JGR drivers Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch (who was making his final start as a Gibbs driver before moving to Richard Childress Racing next season) both tweeted they would be racing with heavy hearts on the 1-mile oval.

“Today we will do what we don’t want to do, but we will unite as a family and race for the name on our chest,” Hamlin wrote.

On the prerace starting grid, Busch appeared to be quavering during the national anthem, which followed a moment of silence for Gibbs in the invocation.

“Words can’t describe this day,” Busch posted on social media. “Today already was going to be tough enough, but it’s even more gut-wrenching now. Heartbroken.”

Joe Gibbs Racing was competing for the Cup Series championship Sunday with the No. 20 Toyota of Christopher Bell, whose pit crew includes front tire changer Jackson Gibbs. The son of the late J.D. Gibbs posted a tribute on his helmet to his Uncle Coy.

Several other NASCAR drivers (and Trackhouse Racing co-owner Justin Marks) also posted their support for the Gibbs family.

Ty Gibbs had been scheduled to drive in Sunday’s race but was replaced by Daniel Hemric in 23XI Racing’s No. 23 Toyota.

Coy Gibbs, son of NASCAR and NFL Hall of Famer and father of Xfinity champ, dies at 49

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AVONDALE, Arizona – Coy Gibbs, the son of NASCAR and NFL Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs, died in his sleep, according to a release from Joe Gibbs Racing.

Coy Gibbs was 49. He was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at JGR and the father of Ty Gibbs, who won the 2022 Xfinity Series championship Saturday by winning the season finale at Phoenix Raceway hours before his father’s death.

“It is with great sorrow that Joe Gibbs Racing confirms that Coy Gibbs (co-owner) went to be with the Lord in his sleep last night,” the team said in its statement. “The family appreciates all the thoughts and prayers and asks for privacy at this time.”

Coy Gibbs had moved into a bigger executive role at JGR since his older brother, J.D., had vacated the team president role while battling a degenerative neurological disease. J.D. Gibbs died Jan. 11, 2019 at the age of 49.

Coy Gibbs also started and ran Joe Gibbs Racing’s motocross team, which was a winner and championship contender in Supercross.

“We are heartbroken by the tragic loss of Coy Gibbs,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said. “On behalf of the France Family and all of NASCAR, I extend my deepest condolences to Joe, Pat, Heather, the Gibbs family and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing on the loss of Coy, a true friend and racer.”

Before becoming a racing executive, Coy Gibbs was a successful athlete in multiple sports. He starred as a middle linebacker at Stanford University from 1991-94 before moving into a racing career as a driver.

After racing Late Models in NASCAR series in the late 1990s, he made his Craftsman Truck Series debut in 2000 and raced full time on the circuit from 2001-02. In 58 trucks starts, he had six top five finishes.

After his Xfinity Series debut in 2002, he raced full time on the circuit for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2003. He retired from driving after the season to focus on his role in racing management and nurturing Ty’s burgeoning career.

Ty Gibbs had been scheduled to drive in Sunday’s Cup Series championship finale for 23XI Racing but was replaced by Daniel Hemric.

During the NBC prerace show, analyst Dale Jarrett, who won the 1993 Daytona 500 with Joe Gibbs Racing, said he was “stunned, devastated” by the news.

“It’s family to me because of my association and the opportunities they gave me,” Jarrett said. “To get to know this family and to see Coy come from a college football career, try racing, do anything and everything to be a part of the family business there. And to bring Ty along and put him in a championship situation.

“If there’s any consolation in thinking about this, he was able to watch Ty win his championship yesterday. But my heart, my thoughts and prayers to Joe, Pat, Ty and everyone in the Gibbs family.”

NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty, who lost his son, Adam, in a 2000 crash, said he had many discussions with Joe Gibbs after the death of J.D. Gibbs.

“These are the days in this sport we are a family,” Petty said. “You hurt for this family. There are no words. This is his second son, and I was just crushed when I found out about it. It’s the worst thing a parent can go through to lose a child. But Coy was loved and we can look at so many positive things. That’s what we have to look at, anytime you have this situation, you have to look at the positive side.

“And Joe Gibbs, Pat are strong in their faith. That’s all you have is that faith you’re going to see them again. They’re in a better place. It breaks my heart. It truly, truly again brings you back to that moment in your life. And I know it takes him back and Pat back to that moment they lost J.D. It’s a sadness that will fall on this place as more and more people find out.”

Joe Gibbs started his NASCAR Cup Series team in 1993 after winning three Super Bowls as the coach of the Washington Redskins. Joe Gibbs was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2020 after his fourth Cup Series championship.

Coy Gibbs is survived by his wife, Heather, and four children.

Daniel Hemric replaces Ty Gibbs in No. 23 at Phoenix finale after death of Coy Gibbs

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AVONDALE, Arizona – Because of the death of his father, Ty Gibbs will be replaced by Daniel Hemric in the No. 23 Toyota for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Phoenix Raceway.

Joe Gibbs Racing confirmed in a statement that Coy Gibbs died in his sleep Saturday night.

The 23XI Racing team had confirmed the driver switch at 2:10 p.m. ET Sunday, almost 90 minutes before the green flag for the race to determine the championship in NASCAR’s premier series.

Gibbs, 20, captured the 2022 Xfinity Series championship Saturday night at Phoenix for Joe Gibbs Racing and was set to make his 16th Cup start this season in place of Kurt Busch, who has been sidelined since late July because of a concussion.

Hemric, who won the 2021 Xfinity championship by winning last year’s finale at Phoenix in his last start with Joe Gibbs Racing, drives full time on the Xfinity circuit for Kaulig Racing, which he joined after his only year at JGR.

He has 46 starts in the Cup Series, including eight in Kaulig’s No. 16 Chevrolet this year. Hemric has a career-best finish of fifth at Talladega Superspeedway in 2019.

This will mark the North Carolina native’s third Cup start at Phoenix. He finished 18th and 21st on the 1-mile oval during his lone full-time Cup season in 2019 with Richard Childress Racing.

Though there has been no official announcement, it’s been widely expected that Gibbs will be promoted to the Cup Series next season in the No. 18 ride being vacated by Kyle Busch.

In place of Kurt Busch, Gibbs started the final six races of the regular season in 23XI Racing’s No. 45 Camry. The team moved Gibbs to the No. 23 for the playoffs in a swap that put Bubba Wallace in the No. 45 that was eligible for the team championship.

In his first full-time Xfinity Series season, Gibbs clinched the championship with his seventh victory of the season Saturday. He led 125 of 200 laps while outdueling JR Motorsports’ title-eligible trio of Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier and Josh Berry.